Rhode Island homebuilder h.a. Fisher homes has unlocked the secret to boosting sales – focusing on women.
THE SHIFT FROM homebuilder to woman-centric homebuilder at h.a. Fisher Homes demonstrates the transformative power of a new perspective.
Though the company and its founder, former real estate broker Hugh A. Fisher, have been in the business since 1976, a “total shift” just before the Great Recession turned the company into a headline-maker with a long list of fans – and ready homebuyers – Fisher says.
“The majority of homeowners across the nation are men,” he says. “The people who design them are men. They have a slanted view of the world sometimes and not necessarily the same view of the world as women have.
“Men think in terms of where to eat, sleep and get away,” Fisher adds. “Women think in terms of how you live in a home, how children live in a home, how you entertain in a home – all these different facets about a home that men can be oblivious to.”
The company plans to build 50 homes this year and has just opened Reynolds Farm in North Kingston, Rhode Island – the largest residential neighborhood to be built in the state in 50 years.
A switch to focusing on the big picture elements that are important to women – flexibility, distressing, entertainment and storage – as well as the details and options that appeal to women, has made a dramatic change for the builder.
The company has landed positive press for its concepts, such as a “Finally About Me” survey to identify personality and match it to home design – Respondents discover whether they are a Margo, Elise, Claire or Maggie – and its evolving offerings.
“Now, we have a following,” Fisher says. “People wait for us to open a new neighborhood.”
A New Market
Though 91 percent of all home-buying decisions are made by women, according to the Greenfield Online for Arnold’s Women’s Insight Team, Fisher says he was taking a traditional approach to homebuilding until his daughter, Sarah, convinced him to attend a women-centric conference in late 2007.
At the time, he had crews on the ground, building a 138-home neighborhood.
“I gave them my plans and literally in front of me, they redrew my blueprints,” Fisher says. “I called my foreman
and said, ‘Stop construction. We’re going to change things.’ The rest, as they say, is history.”
A local newspaper reporter spotted activity at the neighborhood and decided to do a story. Fisher and his family were on vacation when the emails started to arrive.
His office staff updated him.
“They said, ‘Have you seen the newspaper?’” Fisher says. “The headline was: ‘Women-Centric Homes All the Rage.’”
When the company opened the neighborhood in January 2008 with an event at noon, people were arriving at 7:30 a.m. to see the action. More than 500 people visited in the first two days, with more than 1,000 in the first two
weeks, and h.a. Fisher Homes sold 25 homes the first month.
Giving Women More
The search to build for women never stops, Fisher says.
“Women want something new and exciting,” he says. “Every year, we’ve been pushing the envelope.”
The push over the past year has been energy-efficient technology. A partnership with The Dow Chemical Company, manufacturers of DOW POWERHOUSE™ Solar Shingles, a first-of-its-kind solar roofing product developed to combine the benefits of solar technology with the durability and performance of traditional roofing materials, means a Home Energy Rating System score as low as 44.
Though partners, such as the state’s most established furniture company, Cardi’s Furniture, have stepped forward to work with the homebuilder, not all h.a. Fisher Homes’ subcontractors made the cut when the changes unfolded. The furniture company now appoints a specific contact person – a woman – to help women complete their style at their new Fisher home.
“Starting out, not all my subs could understand why we were making some of the changes. We had to do some retraining,” Fisher says. “It’s a paradigm shift – not only in the big picture, but with the tradesmen, they have had to learn that we make changes. They also are encouraged. They feel like they’re part of something big.”
One supplier, VELUX, has helped Fisher incorporate unique and functional products, such as solar-powered skylights that can close themselves when it rains, into homes – ones that also contribute to the green focus.
“We love VELUX and their products and used them in our women-centric neighborhoods,” he says. “We use their sun tunnels in places like closets, sometimes interior bathrooms, places where light would make a big difference. In our kitchens and some other bathrooms, we use a lot of transom windows. They are very energy efficient.”
The company’s latest neighborhood, Reynolds Farm, is the newest woman-centric community in North Kingstown – and it takes the female approach to a new level.
Making a community that considers women means looking to where children play and where neighbors gather. The neighborhood features three of what Fisher calls pocket parks.